Saturday, May 03, 2008

Something about salvation

I'm doing a thought-experiment. Suppose we were living in the 1st century and had, say, Mark's gospel (probably the earliest written) in hand. Then we got a copy of Hebrews. What would we think the Good News was? What would we think "salvation" meant? Over the next few weeks (or months—let's see how it goes) I'll be writing down some thoughts on that.

By the way, in doing this experiment, I'm not going to use any theological dictionaries, but rather try to figure out what the word means by looking at how it's used in this letter (I got this approach from Sumner's excellent Women and Men in the Church). So today let's look at this part near the beginning of chapter 2:
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified...
from Hebrews 1:14-2:6
So the first thing I notice about this that salvation is something inherited, not something earned. This means that getting saved isn't a matter of being smarter or wiser or more moral or whatever. There's nothing to brag about.

It also means that somebody had to die in order for us to receive salvation (whatever that is).

And help from angels seems to be part of the deal.

Next, the author doesn't seem concerned about our rejecting this salvation outright, but rather he's concerned that we might ignore it, that we might "drift away". So whatever it is, salvation requires our attention. And apparently "drifting away" is the easiest thing in the world -- it's something we must counteract by paying attention.

Now we have another clue about salvation: it's something that our Lord announced. What is the very first thing that Jesus announces, according to Mark's gospel? Something about the kingdom of God. In fact, "kingdom of God" appears appears 15 times in Mark, and more in Matthew and Luke. In those days, people were living under the kingdom of Caesar, which was not all that friendly toward Jews or Christians. So the coming of God's kingdom, where God will assert his rule over the earth, would be good news to these people, and this would line up with the concept of salvation from Old Testament times. In those days, "salvation" meant that God would do something on earth -- part the Red Sea, destroy an army invading Israel, this sort of thing. He would do something like that, and then leave. So having God's kingdom come, where God is ruling all the time -- well, that's something to be excited about.

Then, signs and wonders and miracles and gifts would be considered confirming evidence for this salvation. That seems to go along with my guess in the previous paragraph.

So far, the idea of salvation seems to be oriented to this world; there's not a lot of "so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good." But then we come to this part: "the world to come, about which we are speaking". So salvation is not just for this world, but also about the world to come -- whatever that is.

From this passage, I think we have the following about salvation:
  • It's inherited; it's not earned. Someone had to die for us to get it.
  • Angels help those receiving it.
  • It's easy to drift away from (the author doesn't seem much concerned about outright rejection, but more about neglect).
  • Something the Lord announced -- maybe the Kingdom of God.
  • Signs and wonders, etc., are considered confirming evidence for it.
  • It's also about the world to come.
This book of Hebrews is really rich -- there's a lot to learn here, and a lot to be happy about, too.

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